KINGSTON, Jamaica - There have been several articles in the regional press speculating about the relationship between the United Kingdom and Caribbean after U.K.’s scheduled departure from the European Union (EU), scheduled for Oct. 31 (Brexit day).
The Caribbean should be examining its relationship with the U.K. post-Brexit.
The U.K./Caribbean Forum, aimed at strengthening cooperation between the U.K. and Caribbean countries, meets biennially, but has not met since 2016. It is not likely to meet until 2020, when the political situation in the U.K., hopefully, will be more stable and predictable.
Currently, as Oct. 31 approaches, the British political situation is most unsettled and it does appear that general elections are on the horizon. This does not mean, however, that the U.K. administrations have not been considering their relationship with the Caribbean countries. Since 2016, there have been high level contacts between foreign and trade ministers at the bilateral, regional, Commonwealth, African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) and United Nations (U.N.) levels.
Though in a climate of uncertainty, there should have been opportunities for engagements at the U.N. General Assembly, where a summit on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (U.N. SDGs) was scheduled last month in New York, and also at the Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting, London on Oct. 10.
In Oct. 2018, the Guyana Chronicle reported that British high commissioners to Guyana, Barbados/OECS and Trinidad and Tobago, then meeting with the former Vice President of Guyana Carl Greenidge, were part of a team working on a strategy to strengthen U.K./Caribbean relations. This indicates that the British high commissioners in the region have a mandate to develop a Caribbean strategy.
An Aug. 12 press release from the U.K. Department of International Trade (U.K. DIT) reported that it hosted an event in Bristol, in partnership with the Caribbean Development Bank and the Caribbean Council, showcasing opportunities in the region for U.K. companies, including Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), in energy, infrastructure and other sectors.
In March, the U.K. and the ACP Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) members signed the continuity Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to ensure trade under preferential terms post Brexit. Bilaterally, the U.K. has been moving to strengthen its engagement with individual Caribbean countries, particularly Guyana.
The U.K. Department of International Development (DFID), in its Caribbean profile, states that the U.K. sees the Caribbean as a key partner and indicates that it will continue development support focusing on specific U.N. SDGs – (7) affordable and clean energy; (8) decent work and economic growth; (9) building sustainable and resilient infrastructure; (13) promoting climate action; and (16) fostering peace, justice and strong institutions. The U.K. has keen interest in reducing crime and in promoting trade and business opportunities.
DFID states: “As we leave the EU, we will strengthen bonds with the Commonwealth Caribbean, with DFID providing U.K. aid to poorer countries.” This could be a reference to the high and upper middle income status of Caribbean countries. DFID’s emphasis on opportunities for U.K. businesses and trade seems to be highlighting trade over aid.
The U.K. also has to determine how it defines the Caribbean, whether it is the Commonwealth Caribbean (only the anglophone Caribbean), CARICOM (which includes Haiti and Suriname) or CARIFORUM (which includes the Dominican Republic).
So while former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May did not visit the Caribbean as she did Africa, the U.K. has been making progress in designing a post-Brexit strategy for its relationship with the Caribbean.
On the Caribbean side, focus has been on concluding the continuity trade agreement, with some bilateral contacts and expressions of interest.
What is not clear is whether the Caribbean is actively developing its strategy for engagement with a post-Brexit U.K. (Global Britain) pending convening of the U.K./Caribbean Forum.